St. Clair Gust house, built in 1915 and remodeled in 1938, was named for and given by Mrs. Ella B. St. Clair, of Greenville, Ohio. It is the only building remaining on campus with a knotty pine interior. Carolina Lodge (where Vining Commons now stands) and St. Clair were built as a pair of matching dormitories for the boys of Asheville Farm School and were only boys’ dorms through most of the 1920s. Dwight Vining, a teacher at that time, remembers:
“My bed was on an outdoor porch. When these buildings were built, they had sleeping porches. People in New York [the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, headquartered in New York] had arranged for dormitories for the boys in the south. They didn’t realize how cold it got in North Carolina. There were no outside walls; the porches were just wire. So later they had to make them weatherproof and livable in winter time.”
Further renovations were made in 1938. At that time the Board Secretary Edna R. Voss wrote to Dr. H.S. Randolph, Superintendent of Asheville Farm School:
“Can’t you get something lower at least in the lay of roof that will slip off into the landscape and not stand out like a cemetery tombstone?”
But the primary subject of her letter was the matter of co-education. Apparently, some Board members believed that St. Clair was being remodeled to be a girls’ dorm, and they did not approve. Voss writes:
“Fortunately there was no Board member present at the meeting of the building committee which looked over the plans or we should have been in a peck of trouble.”
Voss concluded that whether the dorm would be used for boys or for girls, “The first work of construction would be the same in either case and therefore work could be begun before our final decision on the major question of co-education.”
The Asheville Farm School did, indeed, merge with the Dorland-Bell School for Girls in 1942, six years after Mrs. Voss voiced her concerns, and the junior college division was added that year.
In 1944, girls moved in St. Clair. That November, Glenna Guinn joined them as Housemother. Guinn grew up in Tennessee and graduated from Asheville College. She had worked with Save the Children Foundation in Washington, D.C., for several years, but felt called back to the mountains. Miss Guinn was an energetic supporter of the students, and organized many athletic and social activities for them.
The twenty-eight girls in St. Clair—two or three to a room –enjoyed a form of self-governance, which required voting only when absolutely necessary. They brought just a few clothes with them and managed a full schedule of classes and work from 8:00 to 5:00. They were even graded on their housekeeping!
When the new Dorland House was build as a girls’ dormitory in 1956, St. Clair was converted to a guesthouse.
Mr. And Mrs. Woodbury Randsom renovated the first floor guest apartment and added new plumbing and fresh paint in 1980. Ten years later, Nancy Rigby renovated the resident director’s apartment.
In the summer of 1993, the campus celebrated the installation of Dorothy Gillespie’s “Mountain Ribbon,” an abstract enameled aluminum sculpture that delights visitors and home-folks alike. It is a gift to the college from an internationally known artist, who was a guest in the house when she taught here as a Warren Wilson Fellow.
St. Clair is summer home to faculty for the Swannanoa Gathering and welcomes many visitors and prospective students to the college. The Resident Director makes St. Clair his home.
This history was researched and written by Lora Munroe, Class of ’95.